A few weeks before i wrote about the Bono project. It was BAT (British American Tobacco)’s project to enter the Formula One. It was all about appearing on the grid in 1999 with their own team. As well, how to reach that goal. We all know that they eventually purchased Tyrrell Racing from Ken Tyrrell. Only using the Concorde agreements eventually to be allowed on the grid. Interestingly enough was Minardi one of the teams in the early stage they had on their scope.
As said when BAT started with Project de Bono, they had a couple of scenarios on the table to look at. The most obvious one was to purchase an existing team on the grid. Why was this? It is the easiest way to appear on the grid. Even then, if you appear with a new team on the grid, you had to pay a fee to start with.
If you look at the schedule that BAT had set in 1997, you see that their focus has always been on Tyrrell Racing from the beginning. To be fair, Tyrrell was not the financial healthy team on the grid. Therefore, the opportunity to take over the team would be a good investment. If you are serious about Formula One and want to stay several years.
Ken Tyrrell had a few demands for the purchase he wanted to keep the Tyrrell name on the grid. Another reason seems to have been the job guarantee for his employees at Tyrrell Racing. Due to this BAT, at this point, stopped their negotiations with the team and looked further. It wouldn’t take long before Minardi came in the scope. The small Italian team had some great years in the early 1990s. Always have great cars, though always lack the financial backing.
The financial situation for the Minardi team at the end of 1996 was disastrous. The result, the team would change hands again. A consisting of Flavio Briatore, Alessandro Nannini and Alloy-wheel tycoon Gabriele Rumi took the team. In 1997, there was enough money. It only took a few months before Flavio had changed his mind. He came to the agreement with Rumi to sell his stakes in the team.
In the summer of 1997, BAT is serious about Minardi. As the documents shown, they are keen on purchasing Minardi. More or less, they were in a hurry to get a team. The first time Minardi is named is the 10th of July 1997. In a note it is said that David Mills is working on the acquisition of the team. In an update from the 18th of July 1997, BAT officially dropped Tyrrell in favour of Minardi. They only wanted the Concorde Agreement from the team. The deal should be done at the end of the month, which gave them only 13 days to sign the deal. Under TBB.116, an extra note was added that there was a back-up option with Ford. Sadly i have no more information about this.
On the 24th of July 1997, another document circulates. Stating that there are two meeting planned with Minardi. Attached with the documents is Minardi named as the transferor by BAT. It goes about the acceptance of transferring the benefits of The Concorde Agreements from one to another. Approved by the other F1 Team. For me it is not clear where this came from. Neither for this I have more information available.
Neither is it sure how the communication with the Minardi team was in this period. There is only little information available on the internet. Neither could Giancarlo remember much of this period with BAT. What he did say is that he would not sell the team only to see it disappear from Faenza. There were more demands in this case. The team would be named, would operate from Faenza, stay in Italy and keep all 70 employees from the team.
The board agreed on the name, British American Racing on the 27th of July 1997 there was still no answer whether Minardi would bite. Or if they had to look for another alternative, or maybe put pressure on Tyrrell once more? The team had this stage had even worse financial struggles.
On the 4th of August, a letter was send to Mr. Northridge that went about Jordan grand Prix that denied the purchase of Minardi by BAT. It had to do with their sponsorship with Benson and Hedges according the letter. It seemed there was more behind it. I asked Ian Phillips, at that time Jordan Grand Prix’s Commercial & Marketing Director, about it on twitter.
Eventually in September 1997 BAT seems to be in speaking terms again with Tyrrell. Some sort of concept seems to have signed with Tyrrell Racing. The overview of expenses speak about “Includes Tyrrell purchase”, while they are still keep Minardi as their backup plan. Eventually, revealed in documents from the 14th of November 1997 the purchased is done. BAT had to pay 20million pounds upfront.
I’m glad BAT never purchased the Minardi team from Giancarlo Minardi in 1998. Look what a mess they made of Tyrrell Racing. Spending millions and millions in the development of cars that never worked inclusive with a management that didn’t really know what they were doing and you could see it would go wrong. There is another reason I’m happy that BAT did not purchase Minardi. Later on there were documents released where their attitude towards the team was rubbish. They were far from nice about the team. Those two docs are already published on twitter.